Baseball really goes international


When Ichiro Suzuki showed up at the Seattle Mariners training facility in Arizona in February 2001, most people thought he didn’t belong there.

by Riccardo Schiroli 

When Ichiro Suzuki showed up at the Seattle Mariners training facility in Arizona in February 2001, most people thought he didn’t belong there.

There had not been another Japanese position player in the Big Leagues, let alone a succesful one.

As everybody knows, Suzuki posted a .350 batting average and was named the American League Rookie of the Year and MVP. He combined 242 hits and hasn’t had less than 206 through the next 9seasons. The first time his batting average dropped below .300 was the 2011 season (.272) and the first, and only, time he sat out for more than 5 games in a season was in 2009 (146 games played).

It is not too bold to affirm that Ichiro has changed forever the idea of what import players could do in the Major Leagues.

There’s been imports in the Bigs since the early days, but mainly from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela (Puerto Rico and Hawaiiare actually US territories) and most of these players signed as teenagers, so it is obvious to state that they developed in the USA. But this was before Ichiro. After Ichiro, the game has really gone international. And the 2012 season will prove it.

We won’t waste too much time on Japanese right handed pitcher Yu Darvish. He is already a super paid super star: the Texas Rangers bid some $ 51 million to earn the right to talk contract with him and signed Darvish offering a 6 year $ 60 million contract. The Japanese contingent will feature in 2012 other Rookies: outfielder Aoki, left handed pitcher Wada and shortstop Nakayima, but these are all veterans of the Japanese NPB.

Cuban outfielder Yoannis Cespedes is another high profile Rookie, since he signed a year $ 36 million contract with the Oakland A’S. The Rangers landed last season 23 year old Leonys Martin and his “Lightning quick bat speed” for $ 15.6 million but the outfielder has yet failed to make the Big LeaguesBaltimore may soon come to termes with another cuban outfielder: Jorge Soler.

The point is, each and every scout on the planet would have signed these players. When we say that the game has gone international, we mean something else.
A deep look at the top prospects in each of the 30 MLB organizations shows that baseball talent is everywhere on earth.

PITCHERS Let’s get started with right hander Julio Teheran (ColombiaAtlanta Braves). The testimonial of IBAF and Peace and Sport project Beisbol por la Paz has “Excellent instinct, electric arm and maturity beyond his 21years of age”.

Mexican righthander Luis Heredia was born in 1994, throws 96 mile per hour heat and has a guaranteed $ 2.6million by the Pirates in his pocket.

Mexican lefthanders who could make a Big League rotation are 21yeard old Manny Bantuelos (Yankees) and Juan Oramas (Padres).

Right hander Chen Lee plays for the Indians and was born in Chinese Taipei. He throws, with velocity, “From a low 3/4 arm slot”.

Asia may see another Major League arm when they look at Cubs’ righthander Dae Eun Rhee (born 1989 in Korea), who is projected as a number 3 starter.
French speaking canadian Philippe Aumont was born in 1989. The righthander signed for $ 1.9 million out of College for the Phillies.

Philadelphia also believes that 23 year old righthander J.C. Ramirez from Nicaragua (a 94 mph fireballer) has “The size and the strength to be a Major League starter”.
Dutch righthanders Loek Van Mil (born 1984, the tallest pro player around at 7’1″) of the Angels and Tom Stuijfbergen (1988, “He has a feel for changing speed”) of the Twins shouldn’t be overlooked.

Minnesota Farm System is also developing Australian right hander Liam Hendriks (1989) “A strong competitor”.

CATCHERS Christian Betancourt was born in 1991 in Panama and scouts have been looking at him since he starred in the 2004 Little League World Series. He plays for the Braves.

Sebastian Valle of the Phillies was born in Mexico in 1990 and “Generates impressive bat speed”.

Chun Chen (1988) from Chinese Taipei may have a chance as the Indians backup catcher this season.

INFIELDERS Jonathan Schoop was born in 1991 in Curaçao and was on The Netherlands World Champion Team in 2011 (actually, he drove in the winning run of the gold medal game against Cuba). According to the Orioles: “He has the arm and hands for any infield spot”.

The Red Sox think a huge deal of Yander Bogaerts. He is from Aruba and was born in 1992: “At shortstop, he doesn’t look that young”.

Second baseman Chi Fang Pan from Chinese Taipei (1990) “Has done nothing but hit” since he joined the A’S Farm System.

Alex Liddi (1988Italy) has played at third and shortstop in Triple A and has showed his “Plus raw power” also in the Bigs for the Mariners. He may get some playing time at first this season.

The Rays have invested $ 750,000 on shortstop Hak Ju Lee (1990) from Korea “An exciting player who employs speed and quickness in all aspects of the game”.
Jurickson Profar (1993) from Curaçao has signed for a $ 1.55 million bonus for the Rangers. He was a 90 mph pitcher and has been converted into a shortstop. He shows “Present 5 tool ability and natural projection as a switch hitter”.

Didi Gregorius (1990) comes from a Curaçao baseball family and has been the everyday shortstop for The Netherlands in the 2011 World Cup. “His best quality is his arm” believe the Reds.

Third baseman Christian Villanueva (1991) was signed by the Rangers after starring at the 2008 18 and Under World Cup.

The Blue Jays see MLB potential in shortstop Adeyni Echevarria (1989) from Cuba, who signed a $ 10 million deal.

OUTFIELDERS Roderick Bernadina (1992, from Curaçao) may soon play against his brother Roger. The Orioles believe he has “Impressive bat speed and raw power”.
Leonardo Fuentes (1992) was signed by the Giants out of Colombia for his “Strength, bat speed and short and balanced swing”.

Max Kepler (1993) became the most paid European position player when he signed for a $ 800,000 bonus for the Twins. The German, who played a consistent 2011 World Cup, is a “Solid athlete with solid swing mechanics”.

Of course, we did not forget about players from the Dominican Republic or Venezuela.

Only, they were too many to mention them here.